Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Old Time Mets - Tim Foli and Bill Almon

There are some interesting parallels in the careers of Tim Foli and Bill Almon. Both Foli and Almon had two separate stints with the Mets, each 7 years apart. Each had a big league career that lasted around 15 years. Both played primarily shortstop although Almon became more of an all-around utility type as his career wore on. Both had all their best years with teams other than the Mets. Both were traded to the Montreal Expos by the team that originally drafted them. But most significantly, Foli and Almon were both the number one amateur draft pick in the country, Foli to the Mets in 1968, and Almon to the Padres in 1974. Which is the main point of this post.

Is it fair to say that the #1 pick in the draft is expected to be more than an average major league player ? Looking at Foli and Almon in retrospect, it's hard to see why either ws rated so highly as an amateur, but it's worth pointing out that in the days prior to Jeter, A-Rod, Tejada, Garciaparra, etc., a shortstop who might hit .280 with some pop was considered a prize, and conceivably, that's how Foli and Almon were projected. In the '68 draft, the Mets could have opted for Bobby Valentine, whose career might have been a lot better if not for the terrible injury he suffered. Still, Foli was a reasonable pick who was probably ready for fulltime duty in the major leagues when the Mets dealt him away in the Rusty Staub trade. Bud Harrelson was entrenched as the Mets' shortstop at the time and Foli got his chance to blossom with the Expos. He was a regular at shortstop for the better part of the next ten years, although never an all-star.

When Almon was selected in 1994, Dale Murphy, selected by the Braves 4 picks later was probably the best choice. If you wanted a shortstop, Garry Templeton was drafted by the Cardinals a few picks later. Almon got more of a chance with the Padres than Foli did with the Mets, but after several ordinary years as the San Diego shortstop, he was traded to the Expos for Dave Cash.

Both Almon and Foli were useful major league players and that's more than you can say for a lot of other #1 draft picks, but in retrospect, it's hard to see what the "wow" factor was with either one that would have made them the top pick in the country.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Old Time Mets - Greg Goossen

Greg Goossen may have been the first "big time" catching prospect the Mets ever had. He just looked like a catcher and had some pretty strong hitting credentials. Yet today, he is probably best-remembered as the subject of Casey Stengel's famous quote "We got a young catcher right here, he's 20 years old and in 10 years, he's got a chance to be 30".

Goossen came to the Mets on a first-year waiver claim from the Dodgers in 1965. He debuted in the Dodgers' system in 1964, batting .331 in Rookie League ball. His Dodgers' Scouting report in the March, 1965 issue of Baseball Digest summed it up :
"Big fellow, likes to play. Hits well and with power. Major League potential." Whether the Dodgers' internal report was not as glowing, or they simply had too many other young players to protect, they let him go to the Mets on waivers.

He seemed to be coming along nicely in the Mets' organization, hitting over .300 with power in the NYP League and getting a cup of coffee with the big club at the end of the season. Fans were excited about this big, strong, young catcher, but Casey's comments may have put a damper on this. Plus, as Jerry Grote, already a far superior defensive catcher, developed into a decent hitter, Goossen's star began to fall with the Mets.

Goossen had shots with the Mets every year from 1965 to 1968 and never showed much, but he continued to produce in the minor leagues. In '68, the Mets converted him to first base, where he was decent, but he didn't hit enough to win a job. In the spring of 1969, the Mets sold him to the expansion Seattle Pilots, where he finally had a pretty good season, batting over. 300 and hitting 10 homeruns in just 139 at bats, although curiously, all of his homeruns were hit at the Pilots' home field, Sicks Stadium.

Goossen never had another good year in baseball, but he did not quite fade into oblivion. After his baseball career, Goossen was a private detective, boxing corner man (two of his brothers are prominent in boxing), and movie actor, most notably as Gene Hackman's stand-in in more than a dozen films, as well as playing minor on-screen roles in Mr. Baseball (coach), The Replacements, and Get Shorty among many others. To quote Goossen who has been a stand-in for Gene Hackman in every movie Hackman has made the past 18 years despite no obvious resemblance "We met when I was managing boxers with my brothers, and Hackman was doing research for the 1988 film "Split Decisions. He just took a liking to me, we just got along very well. He took care of this old, befuddled, used-up baseball player."

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Mets' Top 10 Prospects - 1981

When I wrote that the 1967 crop featuring Seaver, Ryan, and Koosman was probably the strongest group of prospects the Mets ever had, I was weighting it heavily on the future success of those three pitchers. But in terms of potential and depth, it would be hard to top the 1981 list.

Here's what a list of the Top 10 Mets' Prospects for 1981 may have looked like. Injuries and addictions certainly played a role in limiting the success of some of these players, but it was a talent-rich group.

1. Tim Leary rhp - Just off a season where he was the best pitcher in the Texas League as a first-year pro, Leary looked like the best Mets' pitching prospect since Seaver.

2. Daryl Strawberry of - The previous season's #1 draft pick now had a half season of pro ball under his belt and though he was far from dominant, his star potential shone through.

3. Mookie Wilson of - The International League's All Star Centerfielder would soon make Lee Mazzilli expendable leading to a chain of deals that brought the Mets Ron Darling and Howard Johnson.

4. Hubie Brooks - if/of - The Mets hadn't yet decided if Hubie would be an infielder or outfielder, but he was coming off a solid year in AAA and looked major league ready.

5. Wally Backman 2b/ss- Tidewater's switch-hitting second baseman would later abandon righthanded hitting and emerge as a solid #2 hitter and gritty infielder.

6. Rick Ownbey rhp - with a big year at Class A Lynchburg followed by a successful stint at AA Memphis, Ownbey was coming on as a future star in the Mets' rotation. He never made it, but was a valuable chip in the Keith Hernandez trade.

7. Mike Scott rhp - Tidewater's #1 starter was ready for the big leagues although he wouldn't blossom until dealt away.

8. Ed Lynch rhp - a solid starter for Tidewater who was pencilled in as a likely #4 starter type, which is just what he became.

9. Juan Berenguer rhp - The International League's strikeout leader, he was a strong candidate to shift to the bullpen, where he enjoyed a measure of big league success although not with the Mets.

10. Brian Giles 2b - this smooth-fielding second baseman hit .286 in the Texas League and it looked like his glove could propel him ahead of Backman as the 2nd baseman of the future.